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Longing, Passion, Philosophy In Revived Duras

In addition to writing prolifically throughout her life, Marguirte Duras directed many films.
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In addition to writing prolifically throughout her life, Marguirte Duras directed many films.

Anna is a woman on a mission. For three years she has been circling the globe in search of her lost love, the titular Sailor from Gibraltar. She is not the only one looking for him — he is in hiding after murdering a rich American. Violence, passion, world travel — it all sounds like a formula for a glamorous, thrilling story.

But this is a novel by the cerebral French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras, so nothing much happens at all. And it's all the more thrilling because of it. There are long philosophical conversations about love and obsession and identity, and characters stare out at the sea for what seems like hours. A woman's mussed hair says volumes about her inner turmoil, and there is no conclusion to speak of. It's not a book to rush through. It's a book to be savored while drinking cognac and smoking pretentious cigarettes.

The narrator , the Gibraltar, after having a breakdown while on vacation in Italy. He leaves behind his girlfriend and job in the French Ministry copying birth and death certificates to help search for the sailor and tend to Anna's physical needs. He's such a half-formed creature, one almost completely incapable of making his own decisions, that Duras doesn't bother to give him a name.

The author of the Prix Goncourt-winning novel The Lover and the screenplay for the French New Wave masterpiece Hiroshima Mon Amour, Duras (1914-1996) spent her career chronicling doomed love and existential quandaries. Translated from the French by Barbara Bray and now back in print for the first time in a generation, The Sailor from Gibraltar is an early book that, despite off-center pacing, holds up well to her more celebrated works. By the time of the book's initial publication in 1952, Duras' writing had already developed the fluid effortlessness that makes her fiction so enchanting.

"One's always more or less looking for something," Duras writes in Gibraltar, "for something to arise in the world and come toward you." Whether that's a lost love or a reason not to go home again, Duras captures the longing that infects her 'haracters — and all of us from time to time — with elegant prose and a story that will set you blissfully adrift.

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